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State of Virus Attacks

November 1, 2016

The need for security has never been higher. The threats from viruses, malware and hackers is far more dangerous than ever before. Fortunately, we have the tools to deal with most of it. Unfortunately, most aren't taking advantage of the tools.

A brief rundown of current attacks:

  1. CryptoViruses: Hackers encrypt your data and charge you large sums to restore it (see separate article).
  2. AtomBomb: Changes the tables that control installed programs to make them do things they aren't supposed to do. Currently, there is no fix for this. (see separate article)
  3. Fake Blue Screen of Death: They pop up a webpage that is hard to turn off and that looks like a standard Microsoft Blue Screen of Death -- only there is a phone number to call. If you call that number, you be instructed to let the "Microsoft" technician take over your computer. (see separate article)
  4. Internet of Things (IoT): Internet-connected, non-computer devices are starting to proliferate around homes and businesses. Cameras, DVRs, light bulbs, thermostats, garage door openers, toasters, refrigerators and a whole host of other items are being connected to the Internet so we can do things with apps on our phones. Unfortunately, very few of these items have decent security and have been used to attack Internet sites in Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. (see separate article)



First and foremost, get serious about passwords. Most people use the same or very similar password everywhere. More than half a billion email accounts with passwords have been hacked already in 2016. Hackers take over email accounts on a regular basis and garner bank statements, contacts, etc. and then attack promising targets with variations of your name and password. It's all done by scripts, so it takes no hacker time, just a computer grinding away.

The absolutely minimum password length is 8 character, 12 is better. It should have a mixture of upper, lower, number and special characters (punctuation). We all know it is difficult to keep these passwords straight, so get a password manager like LastPass (has both a free and paid version), RoboForm or the free, but tricky to use KeePass.

These password managers require that you remember only one master password. Afterwards, they will automatically enter your password when you enter sites.

Don't Open Attachments

Experts estimate that approximately 90% of hacker attacks come through email attachments. If they can entice you into opening their virus-infested email attachment, they can perform nearly any kind of attack. Get in the habit of NOT opening attachments. If your bank sends you an email saying there's something wrong with your account, do not open the attachment or click on a link in the email. Instead, open your browser and go to your bank in the normal manner. If there is an irregularity, they will post it as you sign in. But they won't. Virtually all such messages are hacks.

If you are in an environment where you have to open attachments, use a lot of care. Read the message carefully before opening attachments. Does this message look like it really came from the person who says they sent it? If the message is generic: "Thought you'd like this," "This is sick," etc. Don't open. If you feel you should, call them and verify that they really sent it. Most of the time, you'll be able to tell whether it was really sent by whomever it says it was sent by. Don't click on it "just to see."

Don't Panic

Hackers try to get you scared. People don't think well when they are scared. When something goes wrong, stop to think carefully. The Blue Screen of Death hack tries to make you think your computer crashed and offers a "Microsoft" phone number to call. Microsoft has never put any phone number on an error message. An 800 number is a tip-off that it is a fake. More than half of Microsoft's business is with people who cannot access US 800 numbers. The first item of business when you get a Blue Screen is to reboot. Hold the power button down for 15 seconds if you have to. Most of the time that will fix the problem -- if you haven't done something silly in the meantime.

If you get a phone call from the IRS, FBI, Microsoft or other official-sounding party, stop to think.

  • The IRS policy is to make all initial contacts on problems with a tax return via regular mail. Not email, and certainly not phone calls. If you have an ongoing issue with the IRS, you might receive a phone call, but it will be from someone you have already exchanged mail with.
  • The FBI could call you to ask if you were a witness to something you weren't directly involved in. But if they suspect you of any irregularity, you will contact you in person.
  • Microsoft doesn't have your phone number. Have you ever given it to them? Want a fools errand? Try to give them your phone number. For certain, they do not have your computer's identity attached to your name and they have never once in the history of the company ever called someone to inform them there's a problem with a computer.

Take Care of IoT Devices

For DVRs, cameras, toasters or other Internet-connected devices, change the default security settings. Unfortunately, you will probably have to read the manual, which may only be available online. Find out how to log into all your devices and at the very minimum change username and password. Write them down or put them into your password manager. If the device has no ability to change username and password, return it. Several companies that released devices that have no ability to change credentials, have offered to replace those devices with ones that do. Take advantage.

Check Your Router Security

The one item that protects you from outside Internet attacks is your router. Log in and turn off Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) and make sure there is no capability to manage the router from outside your network. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like to have backdoors into your router so they can troubleshoot problems when you call. Unfortunately, they use universal usernames and passwords, so almost anyone can get into your router. If you cannot figure out how to do this with your ISP, install a second router behind theirs and connect all your devices to your router. Don't let anything in the house or office connect directly to the ISP's router. Be sure to turn off UPnP on your inside router, too.


Take care of your security. Be pro-active when you hear about new vulnerabilities and check your setup against what the vulnerability attacks. Most of the time you will be covered. Not that many new vectors are uncovered. Mostly it is just a repeat of previous schemes.